VICTORIA, Seychelles (eTN) – In an effort to discuss the state of the country’s tourism industry, members of the Seychelles tourism industry recently met for the largest gathering ever of tourism professionals and affiliated business partners.
Louis D’Offay, the managing director and general manager of Hotel L’Archipel of Praslin who is also the current chairman of the Seychelles Tourism Industry’s Association (SHTA), spoke at length on the current state of affairs and the industry’s economy, in the presence of Seychelles Principal Finance Secretary Amed Afif, Seychelles Tourist Board chairman Maurice Loustau-Lalanne and Ambassador Marc Marengo, the special advisor in the office of the vice president (who is also the current minister of tourism).
The forced closure of The Plantation Club Hotel & Casino, and the Seychelles government’s attempt to liquidate the company using the cover of its 8 percent shares in the resort’s holding company was brought up by various speakers at the industry’s gathering. Everyone echoed the same message that the Plantation Club saga was a worst case experience set to rock investor confidence in Seychelles.
Mr. D’Offay with the support of Mr. Bart Labuschagne, general manager of the Coco de Mer Hotel & Black Parrot Suites of Praslin, pleaded to the Seychelles government to review the current existing regulations whereby hotel licenses were granted on a year-to-year basis only. The two explained that investors were at the mercy of government officials because the refusal to renew the hotel operating license ruins any investment. This is evident in the present case where the 200-room Plantation Hotel & Casino saw its operating license unapproved for renewal.
The case was also made about the heavy burden of electricity charges, which increases per usage. The industry felt that a sliding-down scale in electricity charges is needed to continue to offer an acceptable level of comfort and service for the Seychelles visitors.
The meeting, which was the industry’s first meeting for 2008, was also attended by the country’s founding president, Sir James Mancham, and opposition leader Wavel Ramkalawan, Civil Aviation Authority CEO Gilly Faure, Port Authority CEO Andre Ciseau and Chamber of Commerce & Industry chairman Bernard Pool.
The new regulations affecting the “foreign exchange retention by tourism establishments” was discussed as the measures today provided on a case-by-case basis whereby establishments had granted a retention level from 12.75 percent to over 80 percent of the hard currency they earned. It was also revealed that most local enterprises fell in the 12.75 percent bracket.
The government demands that all services such as electricity, water, good & services tax, work permits for expatriate staff were all now payable in hard currency, if the retention level of an establishment was greater than 25 percent. The trade expressed that this arbitrary allocation of hard currency level was a disincentive for the industry, and it provided unfair operational advantages to establishments with the biggest retention levels and the proposal was launched for services payment in foreign exchange to be prorated to the level of retention allocated.
The Seychelles Tourist Board’s Hotel & Grading Proposal was criticized by the trade as being but a distraction for the authorities and, Mrs. Maryse Eichler, the former CEO of the government’s “Seychelles Hotels Group” presented a review of the merit in self assessments and for the existing practice of classification by the tour operators selling Seychelles. The industry’s chairman was mandated to pursue the objection to the proposal which also gives the CEO of the tourist board the power to fine establishments up to Rupees 100,000.00 (10,000.00 euros) for non-compliance for instructions issued by the board’s agents.
The treasurer of the industry’s association and managing director of Mason’s Travel, Mr. Alan Mason, addressed the gathering on the need of the industry to strengthen its association so as to enable the elected executive officials to address concerns with a strong voice. He announced that the country’s tourism industry would be launching an electronic newsletter that will be circulated to the Seychelles business community and to all overseas tour operators and the media.
Mr. Mason also used the opportunity to inform members present of the association’s recent success in representations made to the government with regards to the new minimum wage structure, which has been raised across the board.
Mrs. Daniella Payet-Alis, the head of Seychelles Resa with offices in Seychelles and in Europe, spoke about the cooperation that is developing between the trade and the Ministry of Finance on matters affecting the tourism trade. She appealed for more dialogue on matters that affected operating costs.
Mrs. Rose-Marie Hoareau, the Seychelles manager for Qatar Airways and the chairperson of the airline’s committee, presented the constraints of all foreign airlines to repatriate funds as per their bilateral agreements. She also informed the gathering about the new weekly flight by Eurofly from Italy at the end of February.
Meanwhiule, Mrs. Nichole Tirant-Gherardi, secretary-general of the Seychelles Chamber of Commerce & Industry, spoke about the need for the country’s authorities to remain focused. She cautioned about closing operational resorts when the country knew of illegal operations on government-owned islands. She also reviewed points made some five years ago which had been again repeated by industry speakers before her. She echoed the support of the Chamber of Commerce & Industry to the efforts of the tourism trade to rally all affiliated businesses into one strong association.
For his part, Seychelles founding president, James Mancham who is credited to have opened Seychelles to tourism in the ‘70s, presented closing remarks for the country’s industry first general meeting for 2008. He echoed his disappointment over Vice President Joseph Belmont’s absence “the biggest gathering of the tourism industry in the country.”